Friday, June 3, 2016
Be Still My Soul -- Katharina von Schlegel
She was sensing a revival of sorts was in progress in her homeland, or she in fact wanted to help spur one onward. Katharina von Schlegel lived during an era when believers in God felt a renewal of the Christian faith was at hand, a response to their parents’ and grandparents’ time when commitment to His principles had waned, and religion was mechanical. She wanted more from her faith in Him, and sought what she felt was missing in what she could read in His ancient word. It wasn’t exactly new, but perhaps because the words hadn’t been internalized quite the way they should have been, and perhaps also because difficult times were at hand, what Katharina observed felt fresh when she sat and composed, and proposed, a simple method to herself and others who listened. “Be Still, My Soul” she said, and lean on Him. Stop striving, and let Him take over.
Katharina Von Schlegel’s life coincided with the Pietist Movement of 18th Century central Europe (present-day Germany) and the Lutherans who lived there, but her hymn’s history has echoes on either side of this period. Pietism’s proponents believed in a deeper personal loyalty and practice of one’s faith toward the Creator (and exemplified in one of the period’s popular pieces of art shown here – The Broad and the Narrow Way). It was no accident that von Schlegel would therefore be reading her bible, giving her the idea for “Be Still My Soul”. Evidently, she was focused on what one Psalmist from 1,000 B.C. was saying (46:10), perhaps because the trouble he describes throughout the 11 verses of that ancient song reminded her that, though circumstances in the mid-18th Century A.D. were not identical, she and her fellow citizens still encountered their own issues. What particularly troubled this 18th Century Lutheran woman? Grief, pain, and thorny ways (v.1), waves and winds (v.2), vale of tears and fears (v.3), and disappointment (v.4) are on her list. And, it’s interesting to note that she came upon these even as she headed a women’s seminary –institutions engaged in the study of faith are not immune, apparently. One hundred years after this German woman’s thoughts emerged, they were translated into English by Jane Borthwick in Scotland, showing her formula for managing difficulty was spreading wider. Her message, first propagated in another land nearly three millennia earlier, still mattered.
And, it’s still here two centuries later. Does anyone think this technique of managing life will ever wear out? It was actually Him who said ‘Be still’, and if I, in my faith, have not given up on Him, I don’t think I want to discard this advice, either. The problems that Katharina identified (and Jane translated for me) are too common for you and me to ignore, though band-aids sometimes help us blot them out temporarily. One problem may subside, but there always seems to be another waiting its turn to bug me. I just have to get used to using the von Schlegel instruction book more often.
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985.
Also see the composer’svery brief biography here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/v/o/n/vonschlegel_kad.htm
Also see this link, showing all five original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/b/e/s/bestmyso.htmThe era in which the hymn was composed is described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietism